Vision says it all. That is the story of Philip Sowah, the Managing Director, Airtel Ghana. Tenacious and brilliant Phillip prior to joining Airtel Ghana was the Chief Officer of Onetouch (now Vodafone Ghana) where he championed its aggressive expansion from 160,000 to 1.3 million subscribers.
Philip has more than two decades Senior Management experience in telecommunications, information technology and management consulting with Big 5 and Fortune 500 companies. He worked with Becton Dickinson as the Program Director on a global electronic procurement initiative and was a consultant with IBM Global Services all in the USA. He also has extensive international consulting experience in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
He was responsible for setting up Deloitte’s IT consulting practices and Proctor and Gamble’s IT operations In Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa respectively, growing the former (Deloitte’s to a firm of over 60 consultants in the West African region.
Philip has degrees in both Physics and Mechanical Engineering from Grinnell College and Washington University respectively. In this exclusive interview with MobileWorld, Phillip gives insight into the metamorphose of Zain to Airtel, mobile money and data services, subscribers’ perception, number portability and SIM registration. The excerpts…
What are the broad changes in business strategies from Zain to Airtel?
Airtel is the new brand name for the 16 Zain operations across Africa which was acquired by Airtel International in June 2010. Airtel International is part of Bharti Airtel Ltd, a leading global telecommunications company with operations in 19 countries across Asia and Africa. The company offers mobile voice & data services, fixed line, high speed broadband, IPTV, DTH, turnkey telecom solutions for enterprises and national & international long distance services to carriers.
Bharti Airtel has been ranked among the six best performing technology companies in the world by BusinessWeek. Bharti Airtel had over 228 million customers across its operations at the end of June 2011.
The consolidation of the brand across Africa means that we can present a single, strong identity which will support our goal of becoming the most loved brand on the continent. To be a global player, we need a global brand – this is what Airtel is all about.
As a global telecommunications player, Airtel connects to communities across Africa by providing affordable, relevant and innovative mobile solutions to all.
What is your view on the undersea cable in Ghana? When do you expect subscribers to start enjoying the benefit both in service and pricing?
With the fresh batch of fibre optic cables docked in Ghana, we are seeing encouraging signs on costs, as high speed internet becomes a reality. On the back of that, the applications services segment is set to grow significantly. For example, Google Trader application we launched in 2011 is doing very well. Ghanaians are also passionate about social networking sites, so we are going to see related services grow at a fast pace.
In 2011 the roll out of data plans has been by far the most important activity for operators, and 2012 will be no different. Third – generation (3G) services are rapidly becoming the norm for those wishing to become data providers.
How will you rate Airtel infrastructure considering price drop which will lead to more calls on your network?
Airtel is using the most relevant equipment in the telecoms industry and working with world-class partners like Ericson, IBM, Huawei, Nokia Siemens Networks, and Tech Mahindra to ensure highest levels of service and latest generation technology. Maximising on the synergies that these collaborations produce, Maximising on the synergies that these collaborations produce, and the ‘muscle’ of a global telecommunications company to support, Airtel is able to generate efficiencies which are transferred to the customer in the form of affordable tariffs.
It is therefore not surprising that Airtel is Ghana’s fastest growing network, having expanded our network to cover hundreds of towns, villages and communities adding more new coverage sites than any other network in Ghana and we continue to grow and improve every month. Being part of a global telecommunications company, Airtel is able to leverage on this network to offer a borderless mobile service that offers customers affordable rates while roaming in 16 countries. You do not need to register to be able to enjoy the Airtel One Network service as all Airtel customers are provisioned by default. All you need to do is to switch on your phone upon arrival at your host country to enjoy the service. All calls made will be charged using the local currency and rates to the visited network.
Airtel also offers the most affordable international call rates to major destinations in Europe, USA, China, Canada and Asia.
What are your plans in encouraging subscribers to use more of data services since voice revenue is declining further?
The data market offers opportunities for service providers to grow their business since voice growth is slowing down. Third – generation (3G) services are rapidly becoming the norm for those wishing to become data providers. Our fast and reliable 3.5G internet service brings affordable internet service to a growing number of customers in Ghana, empowering them to achieve more while enhancing the fun times others share with friends and family. We have several broadband packages that address the needs of our customers.
What is the current situation of your mobile money service?
Ghana is a largely cash driven economy, with few possibilities for payments by card. The movement of large sums of cash tends to be the norm with its attendant risks of being robbed or losing the money through various means. Airtel Money, our mobile money commerce service allows customers to use their mobile phones like a mobile wallet to pay for bills, goods and services promptly.
Customers of this service can also receive and send money to friends and family, top up their airtime as well as that of others, send and receive money through their bank accounts and withdraw cash. Airtel customers have enjoyed the safety and convenience of money transfers through over 500 agent points throughout the country and hundreds of branches of partner banks namely Ecobank, UBA and Standard Chartered Bank. Airtel Money has also successfully penetrated the mobile commerce market with over one million customers registered for the service. So, not only are we contributing to the ‘free’ movement of money, we are also contributing to the reduction of traffic in our communities since one does not have to exacerbate the traffic jams by joining it. Airtel Money is facilitating the transfer of money simply, better and faster.
What are your views on SIM registration and number portability?
In 2010 the National Communications Authority Ghana, issued a directive for all owners of SIM cards to have them registered, and rightly so, as it protects the owner of the SIM card in the unfortunate event of the card being stolen and used for nefarious activities. It also makes the law enforces work easier as they will be able to trace the number and effect any arrests.
Mobile Number Portability (MNP) which is a system where one can move to a telecoms operator of choice with an existing number has gone on smoothly. Since the commencement, Airtel Ghana has been a net gainer.
Do you see Airtel Ghana becoming the market leader in Ghana?
There are six telecommunications companies operating in Ghana. To a large extent, there is healthy competition amongst all the players, each trying to win the hearts of customers through respective Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities and their minds with various marketing promotions. Airtel Ghana is currently number four in terms of market share. It is a long journey moving from our current position to that of becoming the market leader; however, we are confident that we are on the right trajectory to attain this position. Why do I say so? We have won several awards during our short existence of a year. We were voted Best Customer Care (by public vote via SMS) – 1st Mobile World Ghana Telcoms Awards 2011. This is very significant because it was by public vote via SMS which demonstrates the public’s confidence in our services and our commitment to addressing their telecoms needs. We were also voted Best Marketing Campaign and CEO of the year by the same awards committee.
Airtel Ghana has again been awarded the Telecoms Company of the Year 2010 by the Chartered Institute of Marketing Ghana. This is indeed another manifestation of the confidence the public has in our services. As Ghana’s fastest growing network, these endorsements and our commitment to being number one will propel us through.
What perception do you want your subscribers and Ghanaians to have about Airtel?
Airtel Ghana is building its reputation on connecting communities across Ghana by providing affordable, relevant and innovative mobile solutions to all. Our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiates in the areas of support to education at the basic level and unearthing talent at the juvenile level through football is reinforcing our image as the telecoms company of choice in this highly competitive industry.
You recently won the CEO of the year what motivates you and your staff?
I have been humbled by being adjudged CEO of the year at the 1st Mobile World Ghana Telcoms Awards 2011. I dedicate this award to all our customers and thank them for believing in us and for patronising our products and services. This award was achieved through team effort. Our success is driven by our values of empowering people, being flexible, making it happen, being open and humble and making a positive impact in the communities in which we operate. We are confident that our staff are inspired by our corporate values, ethics and sense of mission to be the best by coming up with products and services that will delight our customers and exceed their expectations.